Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
April, 2007
Regional Report

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Pearly white bark of ghost gum tree adds an unusual element to the landscape.

Plant a Yardstick for Kids

Arbor Day is a great excuse to plant a tree, not that we should need an excuse! Arbor Day is celebrated on different days around the country, depending on planting dates. In Arizona, Nevada, and Texas, it's the last Friday in April, which is still appropriate for planting native and desert-adapted trees in low desert climes. But the date also works for higher elevation gardeners.

Tree planting is a good project for kids. They can grovel around in the dirt while digging, squirt each other with the hose when watering the new transplant, fun stuff like that. In the midst of the fun, perhaps an appreciation for plants and nature will sneak in. Transplant a special tree for each child -- one they can grow with and use as a personal yardstick to compare their growth rate with the tree's. When the tree outpaces them vertically, they can switch to wrapping their arms around the trunk!

Encourage this next generation of environmental stewards by allowing them to pick out the tree species. When children are actively involved in the decision-making process, they are more likely to take ownership of the project and maintain interest. Go to the library to get reference books with regional trees, or browse Web sites. When driving to soccer practice, have them be on the lookout for attractive trees in your neighborhood.

If you don't know what species a tree is, don't be shy about knocking on someone's door to ask. I have found over the years that asking strangers about their attractive plants unleashes a torrent of conversation. However, if you live in Phoenix, where trees are routinely butchered by bad pruning, it could be difficult to find a statuesque tree! If you live elsewhere, I hope you have more attractive trees to serve as examples. Visit botanical gardens for trees allowed to grow into natural forms.

A Checklist to Ponder
When choosing the species, the most important considerations are sun exposure and mature size and shape. Choose a tree whose natural shape fits the space you have allotted for it in your landscape. In other words, don't put a blue palo verde (30 x 30) in a small space. However, a foothills palo verde (15 x 15) might work.

Also have kids consider what trees are good sources of food and shelter for native birds that could be attracted to your yard. Keep in mind that native trees tend to attract native birds, whereas nonnative trees (such as ficus) tend to attract nonnative "nuisance" birds like pigeons and grackles. Native trees are also adapted to thrive in the desert's intense heat and sun, alkaline soil, limited rainfall, and occasional deep freezes. You don't want your child's tree to freeze to death!

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